Mar 23, 2012

Spartans' Sweet 16 loss to Louisville was 'hard to watch' for ex-Spartans football players Greg Jones and Keith Nichol

Photo: Adreian Payne (left) and Draymond Green celebrate a Big Ten title. Their Spartans were ousted from the NCAA tournament Thursday night after a 57-44 loss to Louisville.

By Adam Biggers

Loyal Michigan State Spartans fans were justifiably upset about their team's 57-44 Sweet 16 loss Thursday night to the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals in Phoenix.

The Spartans, who were the West Region's top-seeded team, were primed to make a run to the 2012 Final Four, primarily due to the spectacular play of senior Draymond Green, who won the Big Ten Player of the Year Award and was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Award, given to the country's top performer.

The Cardinals propped coach Rick Pitino's Sweet 16 record to 10-0 and seemingly did everything right against the Spartans. They stopped Michigan State's high-powered offense with an overwhelming defensive presence, led by center Gorgui Dieng's seven blocks, and dictated the tempo from the opening tip.

But Spartans fans weren't the only ones taken by surprise Thursday night. Keith Nichol and Greg Jones, both former Michigan State football standouts, were heartbroken as well. The pair of good friends watched the game together in Nichol's East Lansing apartment and couldn't believe their eyes as the Cardinals walked off the court as victors.

The Spartans' loss was difficult to digest, to say the least. However, seeing Green, a player both Nichol and Jones have the utmost respect for, go out on the losing end was the toughest part.

"It was really hard for the whole team, but (especially for) one of the key guys: Draymond Green," said Jones, who won Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants in February. "All the work he's done… it was tough to watch. I was almost sick to my stomach. I never like to see a Spartans team go down. They just didn't have the magic they normally have."

The loss was a little more personal for Nichol, who lives "right down the hall" from Green, Brandon Wood and Adreian Payne. Nichol ran into the trio on a almost-daily basis and frequently exchanged words with Green.

Nichol had a stellar NFL Pro Day on March 14 in East Lansing, where he's staying to work out prior to the NFL Draft. But he won't be around too much longer. He would like one last chance to tell Green, Wood and Payne how well they played this season.

He wants to tell Green how exciting it was to watch him play in a Michigan State uniform.

"I hope I get an opportunity to see those guys, and Draymond, before I go," Nichol said in a somber tone. "I really feel for him, and I hope he's able to smile about his career at Michigan State. It was incredible. He deserves to smile."

Every NCAA athlete wants to end their career with a win—an intense competitive drive won't allow anything less, says Nichol, who felt the exactly the same prior to his final game, the Spartans' 33-30 overtime win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2012 Outback Bowl.

"The only thing you want to do is go out on top," Nichol said. "As a Michigan State athlete, you want your final senior game to be a victory. The only way that would happen for them would be if they were national champions. I wanted that for them.

"When we won, when I walked off the field for the last time, I was happy. I'm sure (Green) has a bittersweet feeling. But the sweet part is finishing out as a Spartan."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

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